Amenities for the Incarcerated Pretty Darn Good

March 24, 2010

The on again off again jury selection process for Cheshire murder suspect Steven Hayes was once again put on hold until April 6th following questions about his competency. Attorneys for Hayes have complained about the treatment of their client in a prison infirmary following a suicide attempt in late January. Of course any talk about inhumane treatment surrounding him is ironic considering the heinous crime he has been charged with. Nevertheless, the way prisoners in Connecticut are treated and the “amenities” they receive is something I believe is worth looking at.

Currently, there are approximately 18,300 people incarcerated in the state’s 17 operating correctional facilities. There are four levels of security in Connecticut’s prison system, ranging from level 2 (minimum-security) to level 5 (maximum-security). The only level 5 maximum-security prison in the state is the Northern Correctional Institution (CI), located in Somers and home to Connecticut’s Death Row.

According to the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC), an average day of a prisoner starts with breakfast around 6:00 a.m., after which they would typically go to work in a number of jobs or engage in some form of programming such as school, substance abuse, parenting, domestic violence or programs that deal with how to constructively serve their time. Lunch is at about 10:30. Recreation and any additional programming are held in the afternoon followed by dinner around 6:00. Visiting schedules take place during the day and in the evenings.

One of the things that I am always curious about is what kind of “amenities” prisoners receive while incarcerated. The simple answer is that the less restrictive, the more opportunities there are. The reason for that is because those incarcerated in minimum-security prisons are more likely to be facing a release from prison and will have to adjust to the outside world. If we want them to be productive members of society upon their release, they are going to need the proper support services and educational tools, such as attaining a GED, to be successful.

This does not mean that programs are not available to prisoners who are incarcerated for violent crimes in the more secure prisons. In fact, higher security facilities offer inmate programming in addiction services as well as recreational, educational, volunteer and religious services.

What is consistent is that all inmates, when they begin a sentence of six months or more, must sign an Offender Accountability Plan with the state. Here they undergo an assessment where their needs and deficiencies are identified, some may have limited or no educational backgrounds, while others may be facing drug problems. The plan tells the offender what types of programs they should involve themselves in to address these deficiencies. It is made clear that a failure to comply with this contract will result in them not being considered for community placement at the end of their sentence or receive other benefits.

One question that is often asked is, “do inmates, especially those at the higher security facilities, have access to televisions or other electronic devices?” The simple answer is yes. According to the DOC, inmates at the high security prisons can buy items from the commissary such as a radio, a cd player, a television or even electronic games. These are all purchased by the inmate, who can get paid a minimal stipend for work they perform, and at no cost to the taxpayer. They may also be able to keep a limited amount of books and papers in their cell.

The DOC also indicates that the “privileges” inmates receive at level 4 and level 5 prisons are dependent upon behavior. For example, inmates at Northern CI, can be in a cell with no amenities if they are in a program such as “administrative segregation,” which can keep them in their cells up to 23 hours a day and limit things such as visiting and even showering. This program also takes away their property such as a television or radio, until they earn it back through good behavior.

By providing inmates with these incentives and keeping them engaged in activities (which vary by facility) it helps to keep order and provide a safer environment for those who oversee the prisons. For more information about Connecticut’s correctional institutions, please contact me at [email protected].